One of the best ways we know to promote a more equitable future is by listening, and by using our platform to lift up other voices. So as Black History Month begins, we’re passing the mic to Black leaders who are generating positive change in the healthy living space.
Read on to learn about how shopping Black owned can make a powerful impact, and to hear from the founders of a few Black-owned brands available at Thrive Market about their unique stories.
Every time you take out your wallet, you’re making a choice about the people and practices you want to support. It’s called voting with your dollar, and it’s a form of activism in its own right. Buying from Black-owned brands is a positive step you can take to support Black businesses, entrepreneurs, and communities.
“Black-owned brands get less funding and less access,” says Gianne Doherty, co-founder of Organic Bath Co., a clean skin and body care brand available at Thrive Market. “Not having funding means you’re starting a little bit behind in the race.” Every time you make a purchase, whether it’s from a small, women-owned, or BIPOC-owned business, you’re helping to level the playing field, effectively building the kind of future you want. “For businesses that historically get less funding and don’t have as much access, it makes a world of difference,” Doherty goes on. “Your dollar goes so far, because it means that brand can continue growing and investing in itself.”
Your purchases from Black-owned businesses help generate wealth within Black communities, close the racial income gap, and generate jobs and opportunities for Black people. By adding the BIPOC-Owned value to our site last year, our aim was to support diversity and inclusion by highlighting minority-founded brands. We’re actively working to grow this category, and would love to hear from you about the Black and BIPOC-owned brands you love and want to see at Thrive Market.
When Doherty started experiencing adverse reactions to some of her go-to skincare products, she did what most people do—she got on the internet. “I started researching ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database,” Doherty recalls. “That’s when I came across the statistics about women being marketed toxic ingredients.”
Doherty learned that women apply 12 products a day on average, which means putting as many as 168 different untested ingredients on their bodies. Black women, in particular, may be exposing themselves to even more toxic ingredients. A study conducted in 2017 found that the beauty and skincare products specifically marketed to Black women contain more endocrine-disrupting chemicals than products marketed to the general public. These chemicals, like parabens and phthalates, have been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer. Why the disparity? Doherty suggests it’s mainstream emphasis on Euro-centric beauty standards, pointing to the chemical hair relaxers and skin lighteners that are marketed to women of color as examples.
To create clean, safe products using healthy ingredients, Doherty looked to her personal history. “My mom is from Belize, and I was born there,” she says, adding that she’s lived in Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ghana, and El Salvador thanks to her father’s career as a U.S. diplomat. Those global travels informed her perspective on ingredient sourcing. “I really saw what direct trade and fair trade mean,” she says, noting that Organic Bath Co. gets one of its star ingredients, shea butter, from female farmers in Ghana. “It’s very important to us to purchase direct or fair trade ingredients to ensure that the entire supply chain is as ethical as possible, and that farmers are paid fairly and can take care of their families and communities.”
With rich shea butter and soothing aloe vera, Organic Bath Co.’s handmade formulas recall Doherty’s mother’s beauty and wellness secrets. “My mom is very familiar with plants and grew up creating all these concoctions,” she says, adding that as a child, “If I had a burn, we’d go right into the yard and put aloe directly on it. And of course, shea butter has always been a part of my life. [My mom] always enjoyed body butters—she glistened before bedtime.”
A journey that started with a deep-dive into ingredients is coming full circle; Organic Bath Co. is on track to become the first Black-owned brand to be EWG certified.
Shop: Organic Bath Co. PeaceFull Hand Soap, Organic Bath Co. Zesty Morning Body Wash
A lot of people say the heart of the home is the kitchen. For Ibraheem Basir, it’s the dinner table. “I grew up in a really big family. Food was a big deal for us. That was how we reconnected at the end of the day, how we celebrated holidays, how we marked milestones.”
Basir’s love of food and the way it brings people together inspired him to pursue a career in the food industry. After getting his MBA, he landed at General Mills, working on conventional food brands before relocating to the west coast and shifting into the natural products space. But while he was passionate about the work, he found himself facing an inner conflict.
“In my life in Berkeley, I was really focused on clean eating and organic foods,” he says. But those things weren’t top of mind when Basir was growing up in a working-class Black and Latino community in Brooklyn, NY—something he would be reminded of when he returned home. “It was more of a focus on joy and culture. ‘Does it taste good? Whose recipe did you use? Where did this come from?’”
Basir realized he was straddling two worlds. If he could combine his cultural roots with what he’d learned about ingredient quality, sourcing, and innovation throughout his career, he could bring those worlds together—and in the process, bring healthy food to an audience the industry had long overlooked.
A Dozen Cousins is the result. Named after Basir’s family (including his nine siblings, 11 nieces and nephews, and his daughter), the brand offers ready-to-eat, seasoned legumes with flavors inspired by Creole, Caribbean, and Latin American cuisine. “I started this brand with the goal of speaking very specifically to an audience that wasn’t being addressed by other brands,” Basir says.
While the choice to focus on beans was in part because they’re healthy and easily elevated with craveable flavors, culture was as essential an ingredient as garlic and spices. Beans, Basir explains, are familiar to the consumers he was trying to reach. “I wanted [our product] to be something people had a natural affinity for,” he says, adding that beans historically have had pride of place in Black and Latino cuisine. From red beans in Louisiana to pinto beans in Mexico to black beans in the Caribbean, “every region has beans they hold near and dear.”
The message A Dozen Cousins is sending is one of inclusion. They do this not only through their products (like Cuban Black Beans and Trini Chickpea Curry), but also by working with Black and Hispanic influencers and celebrating the cultural traditions of places like Colombia, Mexico, and Jamaica. This visibility helps make the natural food space welcoming to a more diverse following. “If you look at most natural and organic food brands, they are not speaking to Black, Latino, working-class, lower-income consumers,” Basir explains. Because the existing consumers for natural foods are predominantly white and high-income, those are the consumers brands continue to target. “It becomes this self-fulfilling cycle,” Basir says. “I felt like we could shake up the cycle a little bit just by creating a brand that was focused on a broader group.”
Creating a product that appeals to culturally diverse tastes is a strong start, but it’s one piece of a complex puzzle. Basir notes that early on, he realized cost would be an issue. “If you build a really premium product,” he reflects, “do you inherently exclude people who can’t afford it?”
His response was to create a social impact grant that allowed A Dozen Cousins to reach some of those people they might have missed with their products. In 2019, the company supported La Cocina Alegre, a Texas-based non-profit organization that teaches culturally relevant education classes. In 2020, Basir partnered with two other founders to launch Project Potluck, an organization that helps people of color build successful careers in the natural products industry.
While Basir is looking toward A Dozen Cousins’ future, he remains connected as ever to the family dinner table of his upbringing. “We have an opportunity to work our way around the dinner plate, and really be a companion in people’s lives as they prepare meals for themselves and their families.”
Africa is one of the leading producers of coffee in the world. Coffee’s heritage can be traced back hundreds of years to the Ethiopian plateau. Yet despite the fact that coffee owes a lot to its African roots, the specialty coffee industry is not known for being particularly welcoming to people of color.
Keba Konte, an artist and entrepreneur based in Oakland, CA, is working to change that. He founded Red Bay Coffee in 2014 to help make specialty coffee more diverse, inclusive, and accessible. “In the world of coffee there is no shortage of injustice and underrepresentation, from the farms to the streets,” he says. Konte describes the industry as suffering from a “sameness,” with white people both holding most of the positions of leadership, and considered the primary consumers. “[At Red Bay] we strive to be inclusive of those who have traditionally been left out of the specialty coffee industry, especially people of color, the formerly incarcerated, women, and people with disabilities.”
A more equitable coffee industry starts with where and how the beans are grown. Konte notes that Africans and people in other coffee-growing regions “do most of the back-breaking labor, while sharing the smallest piece of the dollar.” To rectify this, Red Bay Coffee sources beans directly from countries like Burundi and Tanzania, compensating its farm partners with living wages and promoting ethical agriculture and trade practices.
Locally, one of the ways Red Bay works to correct inequities in the coffee industry and overall is by offering employment opportunities and training specifically for the formerly incarcerated, who Konte lauds as “emotionally intelligent, focused, and eager to prove themselves.” He adds that the commonly held misconceptions about former prisoners are “the opposite of reality,” and encourages his fellow business-owners to connect with organizations that prepare the re-entry community to return to work.
By celebrating Black culture at every opportunity throughout its business model, Red Bay welcomes a more diverse audience to the coffee industry. Even the names of Red Bay’s roasts are steeped in cultural significance; Carver’s Dream, an espresso blend with notes of almond and cherry, is in honor of leading Black agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, while Coltrane, a bold brew with flavors of dark chocolate and cane sugar, is named for the smooth, rich sounds of the groundbreaking jazz musician John Coltrane.
Beyond its superior coffees, Red Bay and Konte himself have emerged as forces for good in the local community. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s public roastery in Oakland had become a shared space for culturally rich programming, from music and dance to panel discussions and food pop-ups. “We center the community in everything we do,” Konte states.
From skincare to snacks, get to know more of the Black-owned brands we proudly offer at Thrive Market.
This free trade skincare brand was founded by Olowo-n’djo Tchala in 1996. Alaffia’s mission is to help West African communities become sustainable through fair trade of shea butter and other indigenous resources. The company supports empowerment projects like maternal health care and reforestation. Learn more about how Alaffia is helping communities in West Africa here and here.
Renowned chef Pierre Thiam’s impressive career in fine dining includes helming the kitchens at award-winning restaurants around the world and cooking for multiple world leaders. After learning first-hand how challenging it was to source West African ingredients in the U.S., he started Yolele, a company that supports smallholder farmers in Africa’s Sahel region by introducing their crops to new audiences. Yolele’s signature product is fonio, a climate-resilient, gluten-free supergrain that’s been a staple of African diets for thousands of years.
Shop: Yolele Fonio
This healthy snack brand was founded in 2012 by Jen Martin, along with her brother Jeff and his wife, Teresa. Pipcorn’s uniquely crunchy and flavorful popcorn—made from heirloom corn kernels—has since caught the attention of Oprah and Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran.
Baltimore-based couple Victor and Mimi Bennett got their first taste of raw, unfiltered honey during a visit to upstate New York in 1986. Its rich, creamy texture and health benefits inspired them to start Really Raw Honey, which offers unprocessed honey with a spreadable texture that’s punctuated by delightfully crunchy honeycomb bits. The Bennetts work with a network of family beekeepers who support each other by sharing knowledge, ideas, and equipment.
True Moringa co-founder Kwami Williams was fresh out of MIT and beginning his career at NASA when a mentor encouraged him to return to his home country of Ghana. There, he and Harvard student Emily Cunningham learned about the challenges faced by smallholder farmers growing moringa trees. Without direct market access, farmers were unable to earn a living off the valuable crop. Back at MIT, Williams and Cunningham developed a proprietary extraction system to harvest high-quality oil from moringa trees. Since founding, they’ve worked directly with thousands of farmers in Ghana to cultivate nutrient-rich moringa oil, planted millions of trees in the region, and significantly increased farmer incomes.
After graduating from business school in 1991, Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman found themselves unable to return to their home country of Liberia, where the First Liberian Civil War was raging. They took to the streets of Harlem, NY to sell the African black soap and shea butter that were hallmarks in the indigenous healing traditions of their cultures. Nubian Heritage ethically sources their shea butter from seven women’s co-ops in Northern Ghana, helping women there achieve financial freedom.
Shop: Raw Shea Butter Bar Soap
As a mission-driven company founded on making healthy living affordable and accessible for everyone, we believe we have a responsibility to take a stand on issues that involve our values.
Thrive Market’s Food Equality Fund, established last year, allows us to support families and children facing food inequality—an issue that disproportionately affects BIPOC communities and is deeply rooted in racial discrimination—through member support and partnerships with non-profit organizations. Your donations at checkout allow us to donate healthy groceries and essentials to families in need, and to support education initiatives through our partnerships with non-profit organizations like FoodCorps that encourage healthy living. As always, for every paid Thrive Market membership, we grant one to an individual or family in need through our Thrive Gives program.
Additionally, we’ve taken a number of steps within our organization to promote inclusion and equality. During last year’s national reckoning with systemic racism, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd and ensuing movement for Black lives and stood in solidarity against discrimination of all kinds. Our co-founders personally donated $50,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement, and Thrive Market matched employee donations two-to-one to organizations selected by our Black employees.
“We’ve committed to make these efforts the beginning of a deeper ongoing conversation as a company about topics like race, justice, and equality,” says Thrive Market co-founder and CEO Nick Green, “not as part of a political agenda, but as a concrete commitment to being a place where courageous conversations are both allowed and encouraged.”
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